Trial court abused discretion in granting grandparent visitation, COA rules

The Court of Appeals of Indiana has tossed a postadoption visitation order for a maternal grandmother, finding the Jennings Superior Court abused its discretion by ignoring the requirements and, in part, ordering contact four years after the adoption was completed.

After the father of twin girls got married, his wife petitioned to adopt the children. The children’s maternal grandmother and maternal great-grandfather appeared with counsel at the adoption hearing and, although the parties discussed postadoption contact, the father never specifically consented on the record.

The adoption was granted in March 2017, but there was no mention of any postadoption visitation for the birth mother’s extended family. In January 2020, the maternal grandmother and maternal great-grandfather returned to court to ask for visitation.

Reviewing the 2017 proceeding, the trial court found an exchange between opposing counsel where postadoption contact was discussed and determined a postadoption agreement for visitation had been formed.

The trial court ordered the maternal grandmother to have monthly visits with the two children. Although the Court of Appeals’ opinion states the maternal great-grandfather also sought visitation, it is unclear why the trial court awarded contact to only the maternal grandmother.

Father and his wife appealed the trial court’s order.

In the case of In the Matter of the Adoption of R.D.H. and R.K.H., R.H. and J.H. v. M.K. and L.M., 21A-AD-1036, the unanimous appellate panel reversed and remanded with instructions to vacate the order of postadoption visitation.

The Court of Appeals found the maternal grandmother had not met the “narrow avenues for postadoption contact” provided to birth parents under Indiana Code § 31-19-16-1, et seq. or to birth siblings under I.C. 31-19-16.5-1, et seq.

Also, the maternal grandmother did not meet the requirements for being granted contact under the Grandparent Visitation Act, I.C. 31-17- 5-1, et seq.

 The appellate court held that the trial court abused its discretion in reopening the adoption and ordering the postadoption visitation.

“Grandparent visitation rights must be established before entry of the adoption decree,” Judge Leanna Weissmann wrote for the court, citing I.C. 31-17-5-3(b), -9. “But the trial court’s order of visitation was entered 4 years after entry of the adoption decree, in contravention of Indiana Code §§ 31-17-5-3(b) and -9.

Additionally, the trial court did not issue findings of fact and conclusions of law or expressly determine that Maternal Grandmother’s visitation with the twins was in the twins’ best interests, as required by Indiana Code § 31-17-5-2(a) and Indiana Code § 31-17-5-6,” Weissmann continued. “Nor did the trial court consider whether Maternal Grandmother has had or has attempted to have meaningful contact with the child, as allowed by Indiana Code § 31-17-5-2(b).

“For these reasons,” the judge concluded, “all avenues to an order of postadoption visitation — either between the twins and their half-sibling or between the twins and Maternal Grandmother — were effectively blocked.”

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